Wounded grizzly mauls hunter near McGrath

Zaz Hollander

A Rhode Island man on a guided hunting trip was mauled by a grizzly he shot near McGrath on Monday after the wounded bear turned on him, Alaska State Troopers say.

John Matson sustained injuries to his head and body, troopers said. He was flown to an Anchorage hospital where he is being treated for his wounds, which don't appear to be life-threatening.

The attack occurred near Beaver Mountain, about 50 miles west of McGrath, troopers said.

An assistant guide working for well-known McGrath pilot and guide Bob Magnuson told Aniak-based Trooper Kim Waychoff what happened.

Here's the story the guide told the trooper, as relayed by troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters:

The assistant, Matson, and another hunter saw the bear munching berries about a mile away and moved in a direction to cut it off. Matson shot the bear with a Winchester Magnum and the bear rolled into the bushes, where the party could hear it growling and thrashing. After just a minute, the bear popped out of the brush and ran away. As the party tracked it at a distance, they saw the grizzly cross a brook into more brush.

They waited about 90 minutes before going into the bushes after the bear, the guide told the trooper.

Suddenly, the assistant heard Matson screaming and the sound of the bear growling and thrashing in the brush, he told Waychoff. He was about 30 feet away. Matson got off one shot before the assistant yelled at the other hunter, "Shoot your gun!" in hopes of distracting the bear, he said. Both the assistant and the other hunter fired shots and the bear ran off.

Matson was bleeding profusely from wounds on his head, Peters said. The assistant wrapped his clothes around the gashes. The trio walked about a mile back to camp, she said. They treated Matson and kept him awake all night.

A helicopter dispatched by the Alaska Rescue Coordination center arrived on Tuesday. The helicopter transferred Matson to a LifeMed Alaska flight in McGrath at 1:35 p.m., according to troopers.

It's not unusual to pursue a wounded bear on a hunt, but it's essential to go in a group and use the utmost caution, said Cathie Harms, an Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist based in Fairbanks. There are a large numbers of bears in the McGrath area. A state program several years ago relocated about 80 from a small area near the community. Biologists had only expected to move 15 or 20, Harms said.

Reach Zaz Hollander at zhollander@adn.com or 257-4317.